COLUMBUS, Ohio — COVID-19 cases in Ohio increased this week, breaking a streak of weekly declines dating back to Sept. 23.

What You Need To Know

  • Ohio health officials are concerned about an upward trend in infections

  • Northwestern Ohio counties are reporting the highest rates of cases

  • Low vaccination rates leave some regions highly vulnerable to COVD-19

As the spread of the virus ticks up, northwest Ohio counties are reporting the highest-case rates in the state. Among the 10 counties with the highest rates of spread, seven are in northwest Ohio.

Cardiologist Dr. Jodi Tinkel said Bryan Hospital in Williams County, which borders Indiana and Michigan, is seeing new COVID-19 patients admitted at a “very steady” rate as the county reports the sixth-highest case rate in the state. 

“The part of the consideration, that people who don't work in the COVID units don't see, is just how sick these people are and how much attention they need while they're here,” Tinkel said. 

The hospital's COVID-19 patients have been younger lately, about half of them under 50, and about 80% of patients admitted to the hospital are unvaccinated, she said. With only a 43% vaccination rate for the county, many residents remain vulnerable, Tinkel said. 



“Williams County’s vaccination rate is one of the lower rates, similar to how it is in a lot of conservative-leaning, Christian areas, where there’s maybe also libertarian views in folks who aren't getting the vaccine,” she said. “We've got a high concentration of that leaning.”

​Ohio reported a weekly case rate on Thursday of 410.5 per 100,000 residents over the previous two weeks. It was a 15.9% increase from the previous week when the case rate was 354.3. The recent high in September was 698.7.

With COVID-19 cases rising, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine told reporters at an event Friday that all 88 counties in the state are above the high incidence level, defined as at least 100 cases per 100,000 residents over a two-week period. About 40 Ohioans are also still dying each day, he said.

The governor raised concern that hospitalizations have trended upward, reversing more than a month of downward trends. According to the Ohio Hospital Association, the number of patients with COVID-19 has increased by 13% in the last week, rising to 2,465. 

Some counties, however, have reported significant progress containing COVID-19 since cases peaked in September. 

Hamilton and Franklin counties rank 83 and 84th for case rates, sitting at about 1.5 times the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's red-alert level. 

Athens County ranks lowest in the state for its COVID-19 case rate. Athens City-County Health Commissioner Dr. James Gaskell said there are several reasons why the county is doing well.

The city has a mask mandate, all of the K-12 school districts in the county require masks and so does Ohio University. Gaskell said the university has been responsible with respect to the virus, and most students have been vaccinated in advance of a requirement deadline Monday. 

“We think that the masking has made a difference. We think the major policies that help prevent disease are masking, distancing if at all possible — I'm not sure that always happens, certainly, not universally — and vaccination, of course. The more people you can vaccinate, the better off we are," he said.

The county’s overall vaccination rate is 49%, which is lower than the statewide average, but higher than most of southeast Ohio, Gaskell said.

“We're not doing as well as we would wish as far as vaccination rate is concerned, but we're doing a little bit better than some of the surrounding communities,” he said.

Gaskell said the biggest reason why other counties are struggling is low vaccination rates, but he said the lack of mask policies is also likely contributing to their problems.

For Athens, the mask mandate will remain in place through the holidays, he said. The county needs to get down to less than 10 weekly cases before Gaskell would support ending mask requirements. In September, weekly cases peaked at 379, but have since fallen to 130 as of last week. 

“The problem with discontinuing masking, I’m afraid, is that we'll never get society to mask up again if we have another big surge,” he said. 

Ohio Health Director Dr. Bruce Vanderhoff said during a news conference Friday that officials are hopeful about progress in the pandemic as kids get vaccinated, but he also expressed concerns about the latest uptick in cases.

“Our optimism needs to be tempered by the fact that the numbers on the ground continue to tell us that we are most certainly not out of the woods yet. Our downward trend has plateaued and now, even increased a bit over the last few days, and our COVID-19 cases remain very high,” he said.